One of the downsides of tv box-sets is that they draw you into their orbit, immersing you in a world of characters that become like family, and then one day they drop you off in a post-finale wilderness, leaving you bereft and listless! Excuse the melodrama but we’ve just finished “Friday Night Lights,” which follows the lives of a Texas high school football coach and his family. Although the premise sounds unpromising, it’s been magnetic for us because it’s such an insightful take on life, people and the complexity of human communities. I’m sure it was written by a church pastor!
That’s also why the gospels have stayed so fresh down through the ages. The central character is pretty magnetic, but it’s also about the razor sharp observations the gospel writers make about how people respond to Jesus. These stories have the fragrance of authenticity about them—this is the way people are—and they teach us about our own journey of faith. One of the most dramatic examples of this is the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11.
This story shows the constant wrestle between Jesus’ way of working and people’s expectations of him. It’s almost farcical. It begins with Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary sending Jesus urgent news of his serious illness, but Jesus decides to wait. Then, 2 days later, he gets ready to go to Lazarus, but his disciples challenge him because the Jews in that area have just tried to stone him. Next, Jesus returns to the sisters during their brother’s “wake” and they rebuke him with the words: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”! Then, when Jesus tells them to roll away the stone, Martha tries to talk him out of it because of the smell after 4 days. Even when Lazarus walks out of the tomb, there’s a mixed reaction! Although many believe in Jesus after this sign, there’s another crowd that tell the religious leaders who immediately (and ironically) start planning his death.
We can fall for the temptation of thinking that everything would be simple if Jesus was with us in the flesh. But even his closest followers in the gospels cover him in a dense forest of projected expectations and disappointments. These sisters who know that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ death, don’t seem to believe that Jesus could revive him. We are complex creatures! Doesn’t this all sound a bit too familiar though? Jesus has called us into his resurrection life and yet we often find ourselves resisting his ways of working, his timing, and bending his power into our limited range of expectations.
The essence of the Christian life is that Jesus has called us into the “first-fruits” of the new creation. And yet we still find parts of our lives, our ministries, and our relationships that are lifeless and starting to smell like those old grave-clothes. We can find ourselves saying, like those sisters, “Jesus if only you had been here earlier, I wouldn’t be in this state.” But we forget that Jesus is not just a physician, he is resurrection! So what does he need to bring back to life for you today?
Rev Jonny Grant
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